Tuesday, February 21, 2006


I quit posting on Bookcook 8 months ago (eek), because I was dissatisfied with the site. My writing, while never meant to be any great work of art, had become perfunctory. (Apparently I’m not destined to be a food writer, because I can only think of so many words to use to describe a bowl of soup, one of which is “soupy.”) My yen to try new recipes had lulled. The Diaryland format was pretty clunky and ugly. The whole blog was user-unfriendly, what with my decision to write recipes in awkward first-person narrative format and the lack of any sort of categorization by type of recipe. I wasn’t sure anyone was even reading or trying the recipes I posted. Reader, I was bored.

Somewhere around Christmas (could it have been the three cookbooks, Cooking Light subscription, cookbook holder, kitchen timer, garlic-chile-pepper braid, and egg beater and spatula I received as gifts?) I got back into the cooking experimentation, and ever since have felt driven to try increasingly ambitious projects, record my adventures, and press my recipes upon others. I found a shiny new design at Blogspot. As I move my archives over, I’m re-editing the recipes to a simpler, more user-friendly format. I hope to eventually recommend some other good food blogs or recipe sites in my “Links” sidebar. I’d still like to figure out how I can classify my archives by type of recipe (soups, salads, pastas, etc.) instead of by date, but for now you’ll simply have to browse to find what you want. And I have a new crop of recipes to write about, beginning with this one, which I made on Sunday.

The recipe appeared in the L.A. Times Magazine, as a sidebar to a story about Siberian tomatoes. Normally I think the recipes in the L.A. Times Magazine are pretentious, fussy, and useless (OK, let’s face it, I sometimes think this about the entire magazine), so I was shocked to find one that (a) included only ingredients I’d heard of, (b) took less than an hour to make, and (c) actually sounded good. I was also pleased to find a potato soup recipe different from the ones I already have (potato-garlic, potato-leek, carrot-potato, etc.). And I was relieved to find one that didn’t call for chicken broth, because I don’t have any homemade in the freezer this week, and no chicken carcass with which to make more (yes, I suppose I could have bought some broth at the store, but what fun is that?). Best yet, the tomato and basil sounded so nice and springy, and believe it or not (you people living in the Snow Belt can feel free to hate me now; I know I would), it’s getting to be spring at the farmers’ market. Really. There’s asparagus and everything.

So, the soup: It was pretty easy, fresh-tasting, with a delicate flavor. I don’t think I actually used new potatoes (I bought tiny red ones, only to come home and read in Jack Bishop’s vegetable bible that “all new potatoes are small, but not all small potatoes are new,” and mine didn’t seem to have the thin skin he described), and I went with a normal onion because I wasn’t sure about “spring onions,” but the other ingredients were simple. I didn’t pass the soup through a food mill, because I didn’t have one, and when I started thinking about it, I wanted a smoother texture anyway, so I pureed it in a blender. I suppose the food mill (or the poor woman’s substitute, a fine sieve) would have removed the skins, but I like the little red flecks in the finished soup (and the skin is good for you). (Or, of course, you could just peel your potatoes.) Overall, in fact, it’s an intriguing-looking soup—a nice pink once you stir in the tomatoes, and then you garnish with the impressive bright-green swirl of basil puree. It looks a little like Christmas, though it tastes like summer.

Be forewarned, you might keep tasting the soup while you're cooking and thinking it seems a little..boring. Just wait until you add that basil puree--it zips up the flavor like you wouldn't believe.

4 tablespoons butter
5 cups water, divided
1 large white onion, peeled and finely chopped, or 2 bunches of spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped, about 2 and 1/2 cups
1 bay leaf
5 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
1 and 1/2 pounds new potatoes, washed (or peeled, if desired) and coarsely chopped
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped, about 1 and 3/4 cups
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small bunch basil, leaves only
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Melt the butter in a large soup pot with 2 cups water, and add the onion, bay leaf, and thyme. Simmer over low heat for a few minutes, then add potatoes and 1 teaspoon salt. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour in the rest of the water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat slightly and cook until potatoes are beginning to fall apart, about 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the tomatoes and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Saute, stirring often, until juices have evaporated and the tomatoes have thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Whisk together to form a semi-smooth sauce.

3. Pass the soup through a food mill (or puree it in a blender or food processor) and return it to the pot. Stir in the tomato sauce. (If the soup looks too thick, you can thin it with a little water, milk, or cream.)

4. Puree the basil, vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in a food processor or blender. Garnish each serving of soup with a swirl of basil puree, plus extra salt and pepper to taste.

Serves: 5-6
Time: 40 minutes


One of the first recipes I’ve tried from my new Cooking Light subscription. The delectable-looking photo lured me in, plus in the last year or so I’ve realized how totally awesome roasted vegetables (asparagus, green beans, broccoli) can be. And the soup was good, but maybe not quite as good as I was expecting. Basically, I felt like it was a lot of work to go through for something that wasn’t (in my opinion) as tasty as my usual chicken-noodle soup recipe, and wasn’t even as different from it in flavor as I’d hoped. A, on the other hand, thought it was as good, or possibly even slightly better. I can see where he’s coming from—it’s a darker, richer, more substantial soup. The variety of vegetables was nice, and the flavor did get nicely caramelized and intensified by the roasting. I’ll give it another shot, but with the following modifications: (a) More broth. The soup turned out way too stew-like for my taste, almost like a really wet pasta dish. (b) A mix of white and dark meat for the chicken. I just think chicken breast, even the nice free-range organic stuff I’ve been buying lately, is too bland and feels chewy and dry to me, even when it’s been boiled in broth. (c) Maybe egg noodles instead of the rotini; they’d blend in better, make the soup feel less chunky.

I think my disappointment in the soup was compounded by the fact that I made what sounded like a delicious brown-butter soda bread with rosemary and black pepper as an accompaniment (I’m not sure where the recipe was from—some magazine I picked up at work; Bon Appetit, maybe>?), and...it was OK, but I’m starting to think maybe I just don’t like soda bread that much. The recipes always sound good to me (and so temptingly easy), and then I make them and say, “eh.” Hence, I’ll refrain from posting that recipe. It wasn’t even an interesting enough failure to write about.

But anyway, back to the perfectly nice, wintery chicken soup, which was, in retrospect, pretty easy to make—it may require a lot of time, but the directions are very simple.

Postscript, December 2009: Look at me, trying to put a brave face on the disappointment, all "I'll make it again!" I never made it again. I have a perfectly satisfactory chicken-noodle soup recipe already.

1 cup chopped carrot (cut into 1-inch cubes)
1 cup chopped onion (cut into 1-inch cubes)
1 cup coarsely chopped mushrooms
1 cup chopped celery (cut into 1-inch pieces)
1 cup chopped red bell pepper (cut into 1-inch pieces)
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup water (maybe more?)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 (14-ounce) cans fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth, or 7 cups homemade chicken broth (maybe more?)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (maybe use 1/2 pound breast and 1/2 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, if you like dark meat)
2 cups uncooked rotini pasta (or possibly egg noodles)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Combine the carrot, onion, mushrooms, celery, and bell pepper on a large baking sheet or roasting pan, drizzle with oil, and stir well to coat. Bake for 50 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally.

3. After vegetables have cooked for 20 minutes, combine water, rosemary, salt, chicken broth, and garlic in a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 30 minutes.

4. Add roasted vegetables to soup and simmer 30 minutes.

5. Bring soup to a boil; add pasta and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serves: 6-8
Time: 1 and 1/2 hours